(HARRISBURG) – Legislation to protect children from lead poisoning was unanimously passed by the Senate Health & Human Services committee today, according to the bill’s prime sponsors, Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) and Senator John Yudichak (I-14).
Senate Bill 522 is bi-partisan legislation that seeks to ensure that all pregnant women and all children in Pennsylvania receive blood tests to detect lead poisoning. Effects of lead poisoning are irreversible and severe, including neurological and developmental disabilities. No level of lead is safe for children, and symptoms may not present themselves until it is too late.
“In Luzerne County and across Pennsylvania, we continue to see the devastating impact of lead exposure in our homes, which negatively affects our children’s physical and behavioral health,” Senator Baker said. “The task force report was clear that one of the best approaches to successfully stop this cycle is to prevent lead exposure in childhood, before it starts. Identifying lead exposure at a young age, is one of the smartest investments that we can make in keeping our children healthy.”
“Lead testing rates for our Pennsylvania children under the age of 2 has remained stagnant, with only 25 percent of children being tested for lead exposure. Senate Bill 522 will help us to do more to protect all of our children as well as expectant mothers in the Commonwealth from the risks of lead exposure,” Senator Yudichak said. “I was happy to work with my colleague, Senator Lisa Baker, on this legislation to protect our children and develop a more comprehensive lead assessment and remediation plan for Pennsylvania.”
The legislators explained that working to address this problem has been a focus for the last several years. In June 2017, the Task Force on Lead Exposure was established by Senate Resolution 33. In addition to establishing the Task Force, the resolution called for a study by the Joint State Government Commission. The Commission report, “Lead Exposure Risks and Responses in Pennsylvania”, was released in April 2019 and named 12 recommendations, including requiring universal blood screenings for children.
Senator Michele Brooks (R-50), chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, underscored the importance of the bill.
“Lead poisoning can occur wherever older properties exist, in cities, the suburbs, and small farming villages alike, with unborn and young children especially at risk,” Senator Brooks said. “A simple blood test can be a vital part of prenatal testing and infant care. With this legislation and its call for screening, identification, and tracking, the damage done by lead poisoning can hopefully be prevented.”
Almost 9,000 children suffer from lead poisoning every year. As of 2019, PA had the second-highest number of children testing positive for lead poisoning in the nation. Of the 10 states with the highest rates of lead poisoning, PA ranked second-worst for administering tests to children. In Luzerne County, over 200 children have exposure to lead poisoning, the 8th-highest annual rate in the state. With only 19% of children screened for lead, more likely suffer, but without a diagnosis.
Senators Baker and Yudichak also acknowledged Wright Township Police Chief Royce Engler for his efforts to combat the problem as a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, which recently released a report on the topic.
“Lead poisoning not only greatly impairs learning ability, but it is often a precursor to criminal behavior,” Chief Engler said. “By investing in lead testing and residential lead remediation now, we can protect children from lead exposure for generations and reap the benefits of safer, healthier communities.”
Senate Bill 522 now advances to the full Senate for consideration.